Friday, May 15, 2015
Sex Beyond Belief
Sex....hmmm...let me think on that.....oh sorry, I got side tracked. eh hem. Anyway, let's talk about sex. Sex is quite possibly the most powerful thing in our world. It is an extremely powerful motivating factor. It causes us to do things we wouldn't typically do, it causes us to go against our own standards at times, it sells products, it can be used to give intense pleasure or to inflict intense pain, it has been the cause of wars, the source of shame and guilt, it can make or break a marriage or relationship, and it is both beautiful and sometimes ugly.
The aspect about sex that I would like to talk about is how it changes (or maybe doesn't change) after leaving religion or faith. What is sex to a non-believer? What role should it play? Is it sacred? Does it hold the same beauty? Is it more or less enjoyable? All of the answers depend on the person in question. We all experience sex differently and have our own experiences that mold our reaction to sex. So....what effect does the experience of religion have on our reaction to sex?
It has been very interesting to me in my journey out of Christianity to get a new perspective on certain aspects of my life. The crazy thing is that things have changed for me in ways that I was not expecting! It's been very eye-opening in many ways. I have had to step back and reconsider pretty much everything in my worldview. My faith was at the center of everything I believed about the world and about myself. I feel like I'm kind of starting over in some ways. The foundation of my personality and the effects of my experiences remain and sculpt who I am, but my worldview and beliefs dramatically alter my outlook on life, love, death, sex, parenting, marriage, and everything else.
What were my beliefs about sex as a Christian?
When I was about 11 or 12 years old I had "the talk" with my mom about sex/making love and what it is and how it's done between a husband and wife. She explained to me in very plain terms how it's done and that it is a very pleasurable and wonderful gift from God for a husband and wife. She told me that someday I'll meet a man that I'll very much want to make love to and that as a Christian woman I should wait until our wedding night. I don't know if it was the way she explained it all to me or if it was just my nature, but I immediately grasped the beauty and intimacy of sex and as I thought about the male and female body I thought it was so "cool" that they fit together so perfectly and that it felt good too!
Not everyone has an immediate positive reaction to the sex talk, but for whatever reason I thought it was beautiful and I believed, just as my mom had told me, that it was a gift from God to be cherished between a man and woman in marriage alone. I also learned from my mom, dad, Christian books and sermons over the years that sex is a fundamental element to a successful marriage. It is important for a married couple to keep intimate closeness and good communication in the "marriage bed." I learned that once you're married anything goes as long as you both consent and it is between only the two of you. I couldn't wait to get married and spread my wings (or legs) sexually with my husband! How exciting to get to explore all the wonders of our bodies together and for the rest of our lives! I watched as my parents' marriage grew, strengthened and blossomed over the years (they have been married 29 years now) and I knew that their sex life grew along with their marriage and love for each other. Just like everything else, though, sex has its many struggles and trials and they were open and honest with me about the struggles and beauties of sex. I am so grateful to them for their openness and ease of communication with me on the subject. Because of their willingness to be candid about that subject with me I learned so much and have knowledge and wisdom beyond my years in many areas, not just sex.
My beliefs were that sex was created as a beautiful gift from God, but it had very specific limits. First of all, it is meant for marriage only! Marriage had to be between and man and woman (who were born that way). It also was to be kept sacred within the bonds of marriage (in other words no adultery). As a teenager I was determined to keep sex sacred and to keep myself "pure" for my future husband. I had no doubt that I could do it. It was of utmost importance to me! My parents bought me a silver purity ring and I wore that thing like a wedding band. I was married to Jesus and to have sex before marriage meant that I would cheat on him and I could not and would not ever do that!
My parents and I decided that I wouldn't date in high school (they involved me in decisions like that because they are amazing parents). I decided that I only wanted to date someone if they seemed like someone I could possibly marry. I didn't date for fun. When I was 15, almost 16, I met a boy and fell for him instantly. He was a Christian too and we had both decided not to date in high school so we just started developing our friendship as a foundation for down the road when we would date. The chemistry between us was unbearable! We were in love and extremely horny teenagers. I started to realize why so many people failed to save sex for marriage. This was proving to be a challenge! We managed control for a couple years, but when I was 17 and he was 18 we started messing around a bit. We started dating in my senior year of high school and in my freshman year of college we kept pushing the limits until one day we slipped and went too far. This failure sent me into a downward spiral of shame and guilt that led me down a dark road. I continued to have sex with him and figured that it was too late for my purity so what was the point in continuing to try to fight for it. I was bitter and angry at myself. I started to act out in other ways. I lied to my parents on a regular basis about where I was going and who I was with. I craved male attention and soaked it up whenever I got it. I started cheating on my boyfriend with another guy who I had also fallen for and I was in such a mess emotionally that I couldn't tell up from down anymore. I just kept doing what felt good to keep the awful feelings of guilt and shame away cause I couldn't take it.
Eventually, I was found out and I, quite literally, felt like my whole world was crumbling beneath me. My parents had no idea of any of it and were horrified to find out what I had been doing and that I had been cheating on the man I love and who I had planned to marry. They couldn't make sense of the whole thing because it just didn't seem like me. I was extremely depressed and suicidal for a while after that and started going to a counselor who helped me work through it and got me on antidepressants.
That was a very dark and sad part of my life and it was all because of sexual guilt and shame that my religious beliefs told me I deserved. If I hadn't felt so horrible about my intimacy with my boyfriend, who I had known for years and who I knew that I absolutely loved, then the downward spiral wouldn't have begun. I worked for years on forgiving myself and coming to the realization that I still had worth. For a while it was hard for me to believe that any Christian man would want to marry a woman so scarred and with such a shady past. Not to mention, I didn't have my purity to give him. How could I possibly be worth anything to him? In the Old Testament they stoned girls who were found to not be virgins on their wedding night! Was that what I deserved? If so, I would happily put an end to it myself. I hated myself. I had one primary goal as a young woman and that was to maintain my purity until marriage and I had utterly blown it. I was the worst failure imaginable.
Why do I share all this? Well, the idea of biblical sex was a beautiful one, but when I failed at the guidelines it quickly became ugly and could have huge consequences. Not every Christian young person has the same determination as I did to be pure until marriage, but for the ones who do and fail, it is devastating. I suffered for years because of it and though I thought I had forgiven myself, even though I continued to make mistakes throughout my early twenties, I brought that guilt into my marriage and kept it tucked away in the back of my mind. Every once in a while it plagued me and I felt inadequate for my husband who I felt deserved better than me. I didn't even realize that it was still taking a toll on me until I had become a nonbeliever and started rethinking all of the different areas of my life that my beliefs had an effect on (which is pretty much all of them).
What effect did my deconversion have on my view of myself and my sexuality?
It wasn't until my deconversion that I actually felt freedom from my guilt and shame and was able to fully embrace my sexuality! That was a totally unexpected effect of my deconversion. I hadn't thought that I had anything left to let go of but I found that apparently I still did.
The freedom I felt translated into a more lightweight, free-spirited renewal of my sexuality with my husband and I think he likes it! As it turns out, I'm not the only one who has felt a huge weight lifted in the area of sexuality after deconverting. There was a study done by Dr. Darrel Ray and Amanda Brown on atheists, agnostics and secular people on how religion and leaving religion affects sex. The study shows that leaving religion has a drastically positive effect on people's sex lives. It has an especially positive effect on the sex lives of those who were fundamentalist in their beliefs, but are no longer believers (Atheists Do It Better: Why Leaving Religion Leads to Better Sex).
I realize that there are many religious couples who have wonderful and satisfying sex lives like my parents did and still do, but I also know that religion has a very detrimental effect on many people's sex lives and self-worth. I nearly took my own life because of the shame I felt over something that I now know to be a natural part of being human! Sexual guilt and shame ruins lives and marriages and it is extremely prevalent in religious communities all over the world.
What I believe now
Now that I don't believe that there is a God who has put rules and guidelines on our sexuality, I believe that it is a completely natural act between humans to enjoy intimacy, express love, create children or just enjoy because we can. I do think that there is a strong psychological bond that forms between people who engage in sex that is probably a part of our evolution to ensure that our offspring will be cared for, but I believe that the bond can be broken and remade with multiple lovers throughout ones lifetime and that we can handle this as long as we don't have religious views that cast shame and guilt on us that our minds hold onto for years.
I still see sex as being beautiful and sacred, but in a different way. I've been able to accept myself as a very sexual woman. I love (verb) through physical touch and physical intimacy so for me I need it more than I even want it! To feel that level of closeness with my husband is an absolute necessity for me and I love sex and love-making as much, if not more, than I ever have.
I have also been able to open my mind more fully to people who identify as homosexual or bisexual. I have felt for years that what the Bible says about homosexuality isn't fair because people are born that way and to deprive them of physical intimacy with someone who they are attracted to and/or in love with is one of the worst forms of cruelty. I know that if I was a lesbian I would not be able or willing to give up an entire lifetime of love and companionship just because I was born with an attraction to the wrong sex! Nor should I! Homosexuality is natural and even occurs in other animals. It is nothing to be ashamed of and should not be judged by anyone. I feel very strongly about this. I see way too many people suffer because of religious people who feel the need to impress their beliefs on society to please god. Someone's sexual orientation does not harm anyone! The only harm is brought on by those who judge and try to take away their rights.
I have actually come to a realization in my own sexuality that I am, at least partially, bisexual. I don't act on the female attractions (though I have in the past) because I feel that it is important to be loyal to my husband. I'm definitely primarily heterosexual, but I now realize that there is nothing wrong with my attraction to females and I don't have to deny it anymore.
If you're curious to learn how I came to the conclusions I've drawn about my disbelief in religion or god, see my post titled My Journey Into Atheism.
What needs to change?
The biggest thing that I believe needs to change in our country and all over the world, where sex is misunderstood and repressed, is better education to young people. We need to do a much better job of educating, not only about what sex is, but also about how to have safe sex. It is unrealistic to think that teaching abstinence will solve the problem. The areas of the country that suffer the most in the areas of teen pregnancy and STIs are the areas that lack proper education about safe sex practices and it is usually because of religious intolerance of sex education being taught in school (Article on Sex Health Education). Teenagers are, inevitably, going to have sex. We need to give them the proper information and guidance they need to make good decisions.
So...What now? Love, love and love some more and when you think you've had enough do it again! Without shame and with an open heart!